The blog has been inactive for a couple of months. My apologies — with an explanation. I have just finished the manuscript for my latest book. It’s a history of the 1960s golden age of Las Vegas entertainment — the heyday years of the Vegas show, from the Rat Pack to Elvis. I focus especially on Elvis Presley’s big comeback show at the International Hotel in 1969, the show that not only revived Elvis’s career, but changed Vegas entertainment. Next summer is the 50th anniversary of that show, and the book (from Simon & Schuster) should be out by then. So watch for it.
Now, back to Broadway. Looking ahead at the coming fall season, I am struck, first of all, by an unusual imbalance. For once there are more straight plays — new ones, not revivals — than musicals. I can’t say I’m optimistic about the chances of some of them. The Nap, by British playwright Richard Bean (opening Sept. 27), is a comedy-thriller about, of all things, snooker. The Lifespan of a Fact (Oct. 18) centers on a magazine researcher who discovers that an article he’s assigned to check has been largely made up. (Can fake news be real Broadway entertainment?) Another new play that seems geared for the moment is Christopher Demos-Brown’s An American Son (Nov. 4), starring Kerry Washington and Steven Pasquale as a biracial couple whose son goes missing. And Bryan Cranston stars as the insurrectionist newscaster Howard Beale in a new stage version of the movie Network (Dec. 6). The play was well received in London (and Cranston won an Olivier award for Best Actor), but if it damages my memories of Paddy Chayevsky’s brilliant 1977 media satire, I’ll be mad as hell.
Aaron Sorkin’s new adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (Dec. 13), which has already drawn fire from the Lee estate for its revisionist portrayal of Atticus Finch, will certainly get a lot of attention. But the most highly touted new drama of the fall season is The Ferryman (Oct. 21), Jez Butterworth’s critically acclaimed, multiple-award-winning play from London, which centers on a family in rural Northern Ireland in 1981, in the midst of “the troubles.” Butterworth (Jerusalem, The River) always thinks big, and his three-plus-hour epic promises to be the serious theatergoer’s must-see of the fall.
On the musical front, the big event is the arrival of King Kong (Nov. 8), the blockbuster $35 million stage version of the classic monster movie, which has been dazzling audiences in Australia with its giant animatronic ape. I’ve been immersed in Las Vegas glitz for the past few months, and that has only reminded me of how completely out of fashion the big Broadway spectacle is these days. Mega-musicals like Phantom of the Opera or Miss Saigon are pretty much dismissed today as ’80s kitsch; splashy Disney shows, like last season’s Frozen, can’t buy a good review. It’s the little shows (The Band’s Visit, Dear Evan Hansen) that now win the Tony awards — and draw the audiences. But spectacle has its pleasures too: the childlike delight we take in seeing imaginative designers and directors to try to achieve the impossible onstage. King Kong may well (probably will) plummet to earth in a hailfire of bad reviews. But for now, I’m rooting for the big guy.